I’m introducing a new post type that I’ve dubbed “Grammar Wars.” The concept is to analyze two or more words in Thai that essentially mean the same thing, and discuss when you should use one over another.

I felt this was an important topic to cover, as I’m finding that the more I translate Thai into English, the more I’m finding instances where one word is used instead of another, but I cannot seem to get a definitive answer as to why a word is being used over another word.

A Word Of Caution: Most of the Thai language students that I have spoken to – and I’m including my wife as well – has cautioned me that in most cases you just need to observe how the “natives” use a word and eventually you will pick up when and how to use it. That’s a great way to learn for everything except when it concerns a blog, which obviously necessitates some further research and study so I can post about it.

So, with that in mind, I bring to you the first installment of Grammar Wars!

Question Words

Both the words ไหม and เหรอ are “question words.” Neither translate to an actual word; think of them as a word that represents the question mark found in English. Since Thai is a tonal language, we can’t simply raise the tone at the end of a sentence as we would in English to indicate a question. Therefore, we need to use words instead.

The only discernible difference between ไหม and เหรอ is that with the word เหรอ you are seeking confirmation for something that you already believe to be true. For example:

kun hǐu rə̌ə
(You hungry “question word”)
Are you hungry?

In the above example question, you are making the assumption that the person you are speaking to is, in fact, hungry, and you are asking anyway for confirmation.

In the following sentence – using ไหม instead of เหรอ – you are not assuming anything about the person’s hunger status; you are simply asking the question to get an answer.

kun hǐu mǎi
(You hungry “question word”)
Are you hungry?

According to the Thai2English software dictionary, เหรอ can also be used to make a question sound softer. I have been unable to find any more information about this, but I wanted to mention it in case someone had information they could share to enlighten us all.

I hope this information and format is useful. Please give me feedback and let me know if you like the Grammar Wars concept and whether or not I should add more GW posts in the future.